Archived Story

Community foundation hires Baldus as director

Published 10:11am Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A new face is leading the Austin Area Foundation into its second decade.

The foundation’s board hired Jeff Baldus as the organization’s first executive director in hopes of expanding the foundation at a faster pace. Baldus is excited to start May 5 and begin work to put a face in front of the organization.


“My first plans for the community foundation are to educate the public on who we are and what we do and how you can have a positive, lasting influence on this community,” he said.

Mike Ruzek, the board chairman who helped start the foundation a little more than a decade ago, said Baldus will help the foundation meet its goals. He praised Baldus as well-known, well-respected member of the community.

“It’s a great moment in the brief history of the Austin area foundation,” Ruzek said of the hiring.

The foundation’s mission is to make a lasting impact by supporting Austin community organizations.

“The Austin Area Foundation is kind of one of those quiet little gems that ticks along in the community,” Baldus said.

Baldus described foundation grants as being a little smaller and more specific compared to grants from groups like the Hormel Foundation and the United Way. Typically, grants range from about $500 to $2,500.

Last year, the Austin Area Foundation gave $2,500 to the Austin Symphony Orchestra for concert support, $1,500 to the Austin High School band to buy a tenor saxophone, $1,500 to the ArtWorks Festival for children’s activities, $500 to the Southern Minnesota Women’s Center to buy diapers, along with several other grants.

The foundation gave away $17,000 in grants last year to Austin organizations, and Baldus is looking to increase that number in the future.

“That’s one of our goals is to grow our legacy fund,” he said. “The more we can grow that the more money we have to hand out grants.”

According to Ruzek, the foundation has about $800,000 in assets now, and Baldus wants to surpass the $1 million mark. Ruzek is also eying $5 million in assets, which could mean changing the executive director position to full time.

People can donate to the foundation’s general fund and they can give donor-advised funds intended for a specific project, like the pavers for the Mower County Veterans Memorial or the S.P.A.R.K. dog park. As a 501(c)(3), foundation donations are tax deductible.

Baldus, a longtime Austin resident, is an active member in area business and volunteer activities and is currently on the foundation’s executive board, a post he’ll leave to become executive director. Baldus worked in restaurant management for 34 years and was the owner of Austin Culver’s Restaurant until he sold it in June of 1999. Since then, he has worked at the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce, supporting ambassador activities, membership and the Fourth of July Freedom Fest. Baldus said he’ll miss his job at the chamber, but he’ll continue to be involved with the organization.

The executive director position is part time, and Baldus will work about 30 hours a week. The position is being paid by a grant from the Hormel Foundation, pledges from board members and other sources. Donations to the Austin Area Foundation will continue to go into the endowment fund, unless otherwise directed for a specific project.

Ruzek is excited to see what’s ahead for the foundation.

“As we start our next 10 years, I can’t think of a better way to get started than this,” he said.

The foundation is accepting grant applications for 2014 through Sept. 1.

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